English Community Shield

Battle for supremacy begins

The curtain-raising fixture to the English season is not one that is coveted by the top clubs, but is still of great importance to the forthcoming Premier League campaign. “If in the end we win the Premier League it is better we lose against Chelsea,” said Man City boss Roberto Mancini this week. “But it is important that we try to win because we have not won this cup for a long time and we want to start the season with a victory.”


Premier League champions City face a Chelsea side at Villa Park who have undergone a serious change this summer as they switch their ambitions from Europe to more domestic concerns.


The Blues, reigning Champions League champions after a stunning win in Munich, last won the title in 2010, but since then they have been knocked firmly off their perch in England and finished the league season a lowly sixth last year. Without the success against Bayern their domestic form would not have been enough to guarantee progress in the competition and billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has sought to put them back on top with a huge spending spree seeing over £60 million spent on three players: Eden Hazard, Oscar and Marko Marin.


Chelsea’s attacking concerns have been allayed – although Marin is not yet fit – and more defensive additions are to follow, but things have not been solid at the back and a defeat to Brighton showed how their defence can be exposed.


While the Blues have been busy this summer, usual big-spenders City have been notoriously quiet with Mancini having a public spat with sporting director Brian Marwood over potential signings. City are the only Premier League side to not have strengthen so far and, while you would not bet against a frenetic deadline day, the progress is slow.


If pre-season formations are to be believed, then City will be adopting a new 3-5-2 tactical outlook in order to take advantage of the fine number of attacking players they have at their disposal. With Mancini confirming that neither Mario Balotelli nor David Silva will start at Villa Park as they are barely a week into full training, the onus on creativity may well fall into Samir Nasri’s lap with Argentine duo Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero leading the line together.


Defensively, Gareth Barry and Micah Richards are out, while captain Vincent Kompany is also a major doubt with a calf injury, so perhaps caution will leave City in their familiar 4-5-1. Flexibility may be tested, but it will certainly give Mancini a good idea of what is to follow.


The stats are with City as seven of the last ten Community Shield matches have been won by the side who finished top of the league the previous season. However, a repeat performance of last season when Manchester United came from 2-0 behind to win 3-2 will not be welcomed by those in Sky Blue.


Man City player to watch: Samir Nasri. He is not Mr Popular in France at the moment after his performances both on and off the pitch at Euro 2012, but the midfielder will take on an important role at Villa Park as the creative hub. A clever and classy playmaker, the Frenchman will slot in behind the strikers and look to dictate the play. Chelsea have not impressed defensively in pre-season and Nasri has the ability to take advantage of that.


Chelsea player to watch: Eden Hazard. A £32 million addition, the Belgian is expected to hit the ground running with his new club and make an immediate impact. While the Blues were slightly lacking in the creative department last season, Hazard’s presence on the pitch ensures that they will always be a threat. On the ball, his low centre of gravity and skill at running past the opposition has drawn comparisons with Lionel Messi and if he can get anywhere near the goalscoring record of the Barcelona man they he will be a surefire hit.


Key battle: Kolo Toure v Fernando Torres With Vincent Kompany looking likely to miss out, two players who have much to prove will come face-to-face on Sunday. Toure looked likely to move away from the club earlier this summer but seems set to remain as City drag their feet over a move for Liverpool’s Daniel Agger. The Ivory Coast international is no longer first-choice and has lost a bit of pace in his advancing years, but still has the experience to deal with the threats thrown at him. Torres, under the most pressure of all as he bids to replace Didier Drogba, is still looking to make his mark at Stamford Bridge and will need a good performance to prove that he is worthy of leading the line for the rest of the season. Both will feel that Villa Park will be a good window to showcase their ambitions.


Trivia: The Citizens hold the record for the biggest post-war Charity Shield victory, hammering West Bromwich Albion 6-1 ahead of the 1968-69 campaign.


Stats: Seven of the last 10 Community Shield matches have been won by the side who finished top of the league the previous season. Chelsea have won none of their last four Community Shield matches in normal time (two defeats, two draws). Manchester City have lost five of their previous eight Charity/Community Shields, including a 3-2 defeat last season against Manchester United in which they were 2-0 up at half-time.


Odds: Chelsea (3.20), Man City (2.25), and the draw (3.25) are on offer with bet365 and Frank Lampard is an attractive 4.00 to score anytime.


Prediction: Chelsea’s shaky defence may come back to haunt them as City’s attack is just too powerful. It may be closer in the league, but City should win this one.

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